Marco Belinelli will be wearing a different jersey and living in a new country, but if there's one team in the NBA that can make the Italian feel at home, it's Toronto.
The 23-year-old swingman, who arrived in Toronto as part of an off-season overhaul that saw two-thirds of the team changed, said the presence of Italian teammate Andrea Bargnani and Italian assistant GM Maurizio Gherardini will help him adjust quickly to his new team and life in general in the Canadian city.
"It's important to have two or three Italians in the Toronto Raptors, they can help me because everything is new for me, the city, I don't know the city, the people ... that's very important to me," Belinelli said at the Air Canada Centre on Friday.
The six-foot-five Belinelli was making his first appearance before the Toronto media since being acquired July 30 from Golden State for Devean George. (George left Toronto without ever playing a game for the Raptors.)
Long coveted by Bryan Colangelo, rumours had the Raptors GM on the verge of acquiring Belinelli at last February's trade deadline for Joey Graham. The deal reportedly fell through when Golden State pulled the plug at the last minute.
"I was so happy," Belinelli said of the July deal that finally made him a Raptor. "I come here, I know some players, I know Andrea, he's my teammate, so everything is good... a nice city like Toronto, good team, young team, European team, so it was a really great opportunity for me."
Belinelli was the No. 18 pick in the 2007 draft but didn't see much of the floor in Golden State. He played in only 42 of the Warriors' 82 games last season, averaging 8.9 points, 1.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 21 minutes.
"I'm so happy because this is my third year, and I can have more opportunity to play," Belinelli said. "I think I'm a better player than two years ago, so I have to say thank you to the Warriors, but it's a new life for me, a new life starts with the Toronto Raptors."
A new season officially starts Sept. 29 when the Raptors open training camp in Ottawa.
With 10 new faces on the Raptors roster, no doubt the camp will tip off with player introductions. In a hectic off-season, Colangelo acquired six-foot-10 Turkish forward Hedo Turkoglu, forward Reggie Evans, centre Rasho Nesterovic, guard Jarrett Jack and swingmen Belinelli and Antoine Wright, and rookie shooting guard DeMar DeRozan, the No. 9 pick in the NBA draft out of USC.
Belinelli is a decent long-range shooter on a team that was in need of one after Colangelo traded three-point specialist Jason Kapono to Philadelphia for Evans. Belinelli shot 40 per cent from three-point range last season.
"I'm a guard, I can shoot, but at the same time I can create for my teammates, I can be a good defender, I can do everything," Belinelli said. "I practise every day for myself to be the best, that's my job."
Belinelli scored 20-plus points five times last season, scoring a season-high 27 points against Atlanta.
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